If you’re not using iPlayer to watch all BBC TV, you’re missing out

Earlier this week I wrote an article about why it’s pointless buying a 4K TV due to imminent technology which will supersede it.

My point still stands. This article looks at why 4K means the end of broadcast TV.

Reed Hastings is right, all TV will be online. If you look at what is happening now, traditional broadcasters can barely keep up with new technologies. There were discussions about whether or not we had the broadcast capacity to show TV in HD/3D, people doubted whether there would be enough spectrum to distribute 4K, now that 8K is only a few years away, it’s time to stop kidding ourselves.

Netflix and other online providers of video have created a perfect storm for the traditional networks. At a time when people are turning more to Netflix to watch TV on their terms, it’s also increasingly the place where you find the best looking TV shows on account of picture quality.

Freeview HD, a service most people in the UK will now have access to in one form or another, is still only 720p. This is because it is basically impossible to broadcast anything above that technology wirelessly over aerial. It’s actually something of an engineering miracle that we can broadcast HD wirelessly at all, but now that we have, it’s plateaued, it’s over. You won’t get any higher quality than that.

So what does this mean for other TV services in the UK? Okay, well you’ve got Virgin Media covering around 50% of the population with their TV services, they currently don’t appear to have any plans to launch a 4K service. Sky has access to 98% of the UK, Sky has the capacity and the will, but will only distribute 4K on their new Sky Q packages, so that’s £12 extra a month please.

Compare that to Netflix’s £2 extra, you can see who will have the mass market appeal. Yeah, sure, you need 25Mbps internet speeds, but let’s be honest, if you’ve forked out for a 4K TV before it was wise to do so, you’ve probably got fast internet.

Even in 1080p, Netflix’s House of Cards looks superb. I mean, truly stunning. Maybe not so in 4K, but that’s another argument entirely.

So, let’s bring this round to the title of the article. Why should you be watching BBC TV on iPlayer?

Well, if you like BBC Three programming it’s basically your only option now bar obscure times on BBC One and Two, if, however, you have good internet speeds and iPlayer notices this, there’s one technical detail which makes it stunning to watch.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js BBC TV is so smooth on iPlayer, even watching live broadcasts of the BBC News channel is like watching the ticker at the bottom glide along on buttered wheels. This is because the technology activates when the internet speed is high enough to support it. It looks brilliant.

It means that even if you have a TV which has less than a 100Hz refresh rate you’re going to get such a smooth image. TVs with high refresh rates relish the increased frames per second.

There has been lots of criticism levied at the BBC over the closure of BBC Three, much of it entirely justified. If, however, it means that more investment can be put into making programmes look super on iPlayer, then maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Showing what extra is capable on internet streaming vs conventional broadcasts to me shows where the industry is heading. It’s a done deal. You’ll still have TV channels, but the selection will be massively reduced vs what they are now. Eventually, they’ll all be online.

Dan Taylor-Watt is the head of BBC iPlayer. He’s worth a follow. He rarely tweets, but when he does it’s always some interesting facts about iPlayer and online video, especially enjoyable to nerds like me.


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